Thursday, 20 January, 2005

Bug tracking solutions

It seems like bug tracking is always a difficult problem.  In the years that I've been with Catapult, we've used all kinds of different bug tracking methods, from Excel spreadsheets and Access databases, to full-blown systems that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per seat.  One of the problems is that we often are engaged at a client's site and have to use whatever system they have installed.  But even internally, for many different reasons, we haven't settled on a single bug tracking solution.

Part of my assignment with a new client is to evaluate, suggest, obtain, and install a bug tracking system for the project.  After looking around a bit, I've narrowed my focus to three products:  Sharepoint, FogBugz, and Bugzilla.  It's not an easy choice.

The advantage of using Sharepoint is that the client already has that software installed.  My last client also had Sharepoint, and they had developed (or purchased, I'm not quite sure) a simple but effective bug tracking system.  Since the client, and we at Catapult, are using Sharepoint for collaboration, adding a bug tracking web part seems like a no brainer.  But I haven't determined yet whether the system we used at the last client has all of the features we'd need to make it a company-wide solution.

I've heard good things about FogBugz, and the few consultants at Catapult have used it at clients' sites have reported that it works well.  At $99 per named user (drops to $80 each for 100 users), it's a heck of a bargain.  It's Web based, will run on the Windows servers that are prevalent at Catapult, and it appears to be robust enough to handle the many different projects that we have.  $8,000 isn't a lot of money to pay for a piece of mission-critical software that will be used by 100 consultants.  At going rates, that's between 80 and 120 hours of work.  A good bug tracking system can save you that on the first project.

And then there's Bugzilla:  free, open source, and quite good as I understand.  It's designed to work on Linux, although it supposedly can run under Windows.  I spent a few hours trying to get it running on my Windows 2003 Server box, with the final result that it's up and limping.  It requires that you install Perl and MySql, which aren't too much trouble on a Linux system, but are a little more difficult under Windows.  (ActiveState is the place to get Perl for Windows, by the way.)  The Bugzilla documentation strongly recommends running it on Linux, and there's some resistance at Catapult to installing a Linux server in a mission critical role, mostly because our entire infrastructure is built on Microsoft server technologies and our administrators aren't as familiar with Linux as they are with Windows.  Even if we got Bugzilla running on a Windows server, we'd still have to maintain the MySQL database and contend with Perl--something with which Windows system administrators aren't intimately familiar.

If I had to make the decision today I'd go with FogBugz because people I trust have recommended it and it looks like it'd cause the smallest number of headaches down the road.  But I'm not the one writing the check.  I'm pretty sure that Bugzilla is out of the running, based on our Windows focus, but I'll complete my evaluation.  It'll be hard to beat the price of the Sharepoint solution, though, especially if it has the features that we need.  Next week should prove interesting.